Category Archives: Travel

Home to Mexico City and then to Home

Mar 15 – A two hour bus ride took us from Puebla back to Mexico City, where we hopped onto the Metro, then walked back to our original B & B. Coming from this direction, I got a totally different feel for this city – we walked down a street that contained all music shops, and the music made me tap my feet and smile! Nicer shops, better restaurants, just a more affluent feel than my first impression, I guess.

What to do with just one day? For the first time in our entire trip, the sky was cloudy and threatening rain. We opted to explore the National Art Museum, where the weather would not affect us.

The first exhibit was of Mexican painter José Maria Vasquez. His landscapes reminded me very much of the famous Brooklyn artist Jeanette O’Keefe (also known as my grandma). AJ and MH, don’t you agree?

The museum advertised a special limited exhibit of Caravaggio, who was not Mexican, but still a very good painter.

We walked through several rooms of paintings by others who were inspired by Caravaggio, and then finally to the room where his painting, The Fortune Teller, was displayed. Dozens of art students huddled around it, taking notes. It was the only Caravaggio on site, and was one of his earliest works, showing a pretty young fortune teller smiling beguilingly at a handsome young man while she takes his palm and steals his ring.

We then walked through a multimedia video display of many other Caravaggios, showing his attention to light and shadow, and the detail he painted into every inch of his work. The paintings were displayed on the floor and walls, magnified so you could see every detail. Very impressive.

Some Mexican inspired sculptures:

Bacchus always has a good time!

Smart looking Jesus:

Funny looking Jesus:

Meanwhile, the sky opened, the thunder boomed and the rain poured down. The museum workers scurried about with squeegees and mops, drying the floors, as the museum is built around an open center courtyard that let in all the wet.

A good place to be on a soggy afternoon.

Mar 16 – Just to prove that you can’t step in the same river twice, we got a terrible room with no hot water at our previously beloved B&B. Oh well. The breakfast was still great!

A bus ride to the Aeropuerto, two on time flights, and we are home! Thank you, PB for picking us up at the airport. Tomorrow we will pick up our dog, and life will return to normal. Until next time!

Puebla – Pottery!

Mar 14 – Now here is the reason Jim wanted us to go to Puebla. Whenever we are able, we purchase a decorative plate from whatever country we are in, to add to our colorful plate wall at home. Although we looked everywhere we stopped here in Mexico, we didn’t find decorative plates anywhere. Jim knew that Puebla was the home of world renowned Talavera pottery, famous not only for plates, but also for the tiles that adorn many of the buildings here.

The tiles reminded us of our time in Portugal.

We walked down to the Artists Quarter (Barrio de Artistes), and we found plates, cups, and pottery like crazy! Although we looked at the very beautiful and expensive Talavera pottery (in the first pic below), we settled for a regular ol’ colorful plate that will remind us of our time in Mexico.

So now we can go home…

Puebla

Mar 13 – If you recall, we started this trip by flying down to Mexico City, then took a short flight all the way south to Huatulco, and have been working our way back north by bus. To break up the last long stretch from Oaxaca back to Mexico City, Jim added one more stop for us – the city of Puebla, a five hour bus ride from Oaxaca. This was a full sized, very comfy bus that showed movies as we traveled. We got to watch “Sing” in español, one of our grand girls favorite movies!

Puebla and Oaxaca have a friendly competition going on. They both claim to have invented molé, although Oaxaca has seven different colors, and Puebla is most proud of molé poblano. They tell similar stories of the poor nuns who had nothing to serve the bishop during his visit, so they scraped together bits of many spices, boiled the melange down and served it over an old turkey. The bishop loved it, and molé was born.

Puebla has beautiful architecture and many colorful buildings.

Puebla has the second largest cathedral in Mexico, second only to the one in Mexico City. To my little mind, this cathedral is so much prettier – lighter, brighter, shinier! The ceilings are particularly lovely.

Puebla is also the home of the Convento Santo Domingo. I particularly liked the main altar.

The Convento also contains the famous Rosary Chapel, or Capilla de Rosario. So much gold!

The first public library in Latin America is here, with over 5000 volumes donated by Bishop Palafox in 1646 with the mandate that the books be shared with the common people:

There is an interesting statue here. Do you prefer the front view or the rear view?

Want to know what else there is in Puebla? I’ll tell you tomorrow!

Oaxaca – Chocolate, Cheese and Churches

Mar 12 – One of the things Oaxaca is famous for is chocolate. It is the basis of molé sauce (which tastes much better here – I think I’m becoming accustomed to it), but is also sold in all its forms. Today we stopped at Mayordomo for a classic hot cocoa made with milk, which is what many folks here drink in the morning instead of coffee:

While we were waiting for the cocoa to come, we were served a dish of corn chips with molé negro (black). It turns out that molé comes in many colors:

On the menu of the chocolate shop was a list of postres (afters), which usually means dessert. Not knowing what any of them were, Jim picked one at random. We expected a cookie or a pastry, and instead we got…

…tortillas with molé and Oaxacan cheese! We have really enjoyed the cheese made here, which crumbles like feta, pulls like string cheese, melts like mozzarella, and is served on everything!

Oaxaca has several beautiful churches, a cathedral and a Basilica. We’ve been sampling them in between shopping, sightseeing and eating. Here are some highlights.

The Basilica of Our Lady of Solitude (la Nuestra Señora de Soledad), was built in the 1600s out of green cantera stone. It was built without tall spires to better withstand earthquakes:

El Templo de San Felipe Neri was our favorite, with old stenciled walls, old paintings, and San Felipe himself (I think) up on the altar:

Metropolitan Cathedral, built in the 1500s out of the same green stone was pretty on the outside, but dark inside:

Templo de Santo Domingo de Guzman used to be a monastery. The family tree of Santo Domingo is illustrated in gold on the ceiling:

We’ve really loved our time in Oaxaca, but it is time to move on. Where do you think we will go next?

Árbol del Tule

Mar 11 – You are going to be so jealous when I tell you where we went today! El Árbol del Tule! What is that? Well, it’s not the tallest tree in the world (that would be the General Sherman, a sequoia in California), nor the oldest tree in the world (that would be the Great Basin bristlecone pine, also in California, over 5000 years old). No friends, today we visited the world’s stoutest tree! A really, really wide cypress tree, over 2000 years old!

A half hour’s bus ride from Oaxaca city, the little town of Santa Maria del Tule exists for the sole purpose of taking care of this tree! A lovely park surrounds the tree, with fountains and topiary animals.

For 10 pesos (50 cents), you can walk inside the gate and see the tree up close and personal. Folks say they see faces and animals in the tree’s bark. What do you see?

There is a pretty church here, unfortunately closed.

On the other side of the church is the Son of Tule, only a thousand years old. If the original tree ever kicks the bucket, the townspeople are prepared with a replacement!

A nun sells souvenirs:

There are some lovely metal sculptures here:

We spent a few hours wandering about, then found the bus to take us back to the city. A great way to spend a sunny Sunday!

More from Oaxaca – the Markets

Mar 9 – Oaxaca is known for textiles, but there is a lot of variety on offer from the local street markets. The central square is called the Zócalo.

Usually when we travel we are backpackers, so we do not shop for anything that would add weight to our packs. On this trip, we are tourists, and looking for presents for our grandchildren. We meandered through huge indoor markets. Do you think the kids would like some spicy fried insects?

How about some mezcal?

Maybe a hat?

Just kidding! Plenty of stuff to choose from!

There was one area called the Aisle of Meat, where hawkers entice you in with stall after stall of sliced raw meat. Point to what you want, and they grill and serve it to you right there! This was a very popular place at lunchtime.

As we walked back toward home, we noticed free drinks being passed out by a variety of shops and hotels. When we got back to our hotel, we asked the significance, and were told that today is the day that Oaxacans honor the Samaritan woman at the well who gave water to Jesus, by giving free drinks to strangers. I got fig juice, and Jim got something white that smelled of cinnamon. Thank you, Samaritan woman!

Today, as part of our menu al dia, we tried another Oaxacan food delight, the tétela, which is a corn tortilla filled with black beans (or other things), covered with salsa and Oaxacan cheese and served warm. Muy delicioso!

We have been experimenting with the different brands of Mexican beer that we don’t usually see in the US. Tonight we tried one called Sol, without reading the fine print… Aieee! Beer with lime, salt and hot sauce! Let’s not get that one again!

Monte Albán

Mar 8 – One of the many reasons to visit Oaxaca is its proximity to the ruins of Monte Albán, which was the largest city known in Mesoamerica, inhabited by up to 20,000 people, that thrived over a period from 500BCE to 1000CE. We took a taxi across town to catch the bus that drives up the mountain once an hour. You can explore at your leisure, then get back on a return bus when you’ve seen all there is to see.

Not much is known about the Zapotec and other peoples who used to live here, or why they abandoned their city. The site was known to archeologists in the 19th century, but excavation didn’t start until the 1930s. The work is still in progress:

The structures just looked like hills…

…until they started to dig and uncovered the bricks and stones beneath. This is the other side of the hill above:

Archaeologists have had a fine time guessing what the buildings were for, what type of religions may have been practiced, and the culture of the peoples who lived here. They uncovered monuments drawn with figures, called Danzantes, as the initial theory was that they depicted dancers due to their weird leg positions. Now the theory is that they represent captives being castrated and readied for sacrifice. What do you think?

There are other figures, wearing armor, carved upside down. These are believed to represent tribes that were conquered.

Still others were originally called the Swimmers, but are now believed to represent human sacrifices.

The buildings are huge. Here is a stairway up one of them. Look at how small the people are at the top. See Jim jogging up with his red backpack?

View from the top – see how tiny the people are on the far side of the plaza?

This was believed to be a stadium where some sort of ball game was played competitively.

There is also a museum that showed some of the neat stuff they found in the buildings:

If you go, bring a hat, drinking water and sunscreen – there is not much shade! Definitely a worthwhile way to spend a day!

Oaxaca

Mar 7 – This Mexican trip is a result of my wanting to go to Oaxaca (pronounced wa HOCK a). Jim has been after me to go to Mexico for years, but I didn’t want to go until I read about Oaxaca in The NY Times. I put down the article and said, let’s go to Oaxaca!

Although we hated to leave the beach, Oaxaca was calling our name. We took a 15 passenger minibus that went north up through twisty narrow mountain roads, and got us to Oaxaca in about six hours. Other travelers said it was a scary and / or nauseating ride, but compared to other bus rides we have taken, it really wasn’t bad!

We walked from the bus station to our Hotel Parador del Dominico in our beach duds, then realized we were back in the city and should be wearing long pants. Easy to fix – we just zipped our pant legs back on! Lovely big room with a private patio, great air con and hot water! Jim does it again!

There are colorful buildings and unusual things to see here:

This man appears to be made of meat. I wonder what he is advertising?

All over Mexico, there are Farmacias Similares, where you can bring in your prescription and have it filled at a much lower price than in the US. This was the first time we saw a dancing pharmacist!

For our first evening in town, we wanted to try tlayudas, a very popular regional food. Two grilled tortillas filled with meat or vegetables as you choose, in brown sauce, sprinkled with Oaxacan white cheese, and served with a variety of salsas to suit your taste. Yum!

We’ll have a few days to explore this pretty city. Stay tuned!

More from Puerto Ángel – mostly beach and food

Mar 4 – So here is our typical day at the beach: coffee in our room courtesy of the hotel, leisurely yogurt, cheese and tortilla breakfast in bed, courtesy of yesterday’s walk to the store. Down to the beach to alternately swim in the crystal clear water and sit in the shade of a restaurant umbrella.

Back to the room to shower and change for lunch, which is our main meal of the day.

Sometimes we eat at a beachfront restaurant with other tourists. This is a cold seafood and avocado concoction called vuelve a la vida, or “come back to life”. It is just about the most delicious food I have ever eaten.

Sometimes we walk down a little street to where the native fishermen get their meals. Incredibly fresh seafood, cooked just for us by a native lady who makes breakfast for the fishermen in the morning, but is not busy in the middle of the day. One day she grilled us a whole fish, freshly caught, the next day she offered us shrimp with garlic. No choice here, just whatever she has on hand.

A leisurely talk with Edgar, an 80 year old with excellent English from working in the US, and few remaining teeth, about politics and the state of Mexico and the world.

After an afternoon siesta, we swim in the pool, then walk up the street to the food store to buy anything we need for tonight’s dinner or tomorrow’s breakfast. Here they have canned or refrigerated processed food and drinks, and packaged tortillas, but no fresh bread or fruits or vegetables. In the states, this would be described as a fresh food desert.

On Sunday evening as we walked to the store, we met a funeral procession coming down the hill to the cemetery. About 50 people, dressed in tee shirts and flip flops or barefoot, some carrying flowers and some singing. A red casket carried on the shoulders of four men. We stood quietly until the procession passed. Later we walked into the cemetery, but couldn’t find where they had placed the new addition.

A block from the store is a woman sitting with her small children in front of her house, selling stringy bits of chicken and onion swimming in picante sauce on a corn tortilla – four for a dollar. When Jim asked her for eight of them, she warned, “they are spicy”, and gave him a taste before she wrapped them up. Every day, well-meaning people warn us that food here is spicy, but it’s not really – on a Taco Bell scale, it would be considered mild.

We eat whatever we have purchased for dinner, share a beer and read or watch tv in the evenings. Tv is how folks learn English to the extent that they learn it here – foreign languages are not taught in school.

That’s our week in Puerto Ángel! Hope you enjoyed traveling with us!

Puerto Ángel

Mar 1 – This morning we bid adios to Huatulco, and took the bus to Puerto Ángel. Unlike Huatulco, cruise ships don’t stop here, and Jim remembered it fondly as “real Mexico” when he traveled here in his youth.

It was a one hour ride on a big air conditioned bus, which in my little mind went right along the coast, so I wasn’t prepared for the rocking, rolling mountainous route we took. Whee! Who needs roller coasters when you can ride buses in Mexico?

The chatty taxi driver who took us from the bus station to our hotel asked if we knew about the earthquake that Oaxaca had experienced last week. He wondered if we had heard about it in Virginia, and we told him that we had. He said the houses shook “like paper” and it was very scary, but no damage.

When we got to our “hotel”, La Casita de Marlen, I got a bad feeling. Although it had gotten some high reviews on Booking.com, we stood out in a courtyard while the lady told us that the apartment with kitchen we had booked was not available, and instead she offered us a sad, bare room with a flimsy metal screen door, one lightbulb, no air con, no warm water, two sad flat pillows… Whoops, I just used the word “sad” twice in the same sentence. This was a sad place. We walked down a steep hill to check out the beach, past shacks and shanties, with people cooking out in the yard, and places that appeared to have no electricity. Poor and sad.

Although the beach was beautiful, we had to walk back up the steep hill to arrive, breathless and sweaty, to our poor, sad room.

Jim got back on Booking.com and was able to cancel our reservation without penalty. As “real” as it was, I just couldn’t picture us spending a week there.

So now we are on the other side of the same cove, in a happier hotel, La Cabaña. (Look at the guy photobombing Jim! He was very pleased that he got in our picture.)

Air con! Hot water! A pool!

Just across the street from the beach!

The walkway to our room!

Now we are in a happy place, with lots of fluffy pillows, although we won’t have a kitchen or fridge here.

Don’t expect much news this week – we’ll be swimming and sunning!